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Common behaviour problems in cats

If a cat deviates from its normal behavior, it can be due to many different things. It is important to always first and foremost find the underlying cause of the behavioural change, which can be both physical or psychological.

Regardless of what behaviour problem a cat has, it is very important that you always make sure that the cat is healthy. Many behavioural problems stem from there being a physical underlying cause.

Behavioural changes can come from pain and discomfort such as from dental problems, joint problems, allergies, kidney and liver problems, hormonal disorders, stomach and intestinal problems. Yes, a lot can be behind it. It is of the utmost importance that you always rule this out first before tackling the behaviour problem itself. Step one is to contact the vet.

The cat's emotional registers

Many cat-related questions are about why cats display different behaviours that we perceive as aggressive, and the most common question; why the cat doesn't use its box?

Cats don't experience the feelings of aggression and anger as we humans do, they have a different emotional register. It is easy for us to say that the cat is angry, sad and disappointed, but these are not the cat's feelings. Usually it's us who project our own feelings on the interpretation we make of the cat's behaviour.

Problem behaviours, such as peeing inside or being perceived as 'angry', often stem from one of a few things:

  • Your cat was taken from it's mother at too early of an age
  • There are too many cats in too little of a space
  • You cat isn't allowed outside

It can also be because cat owners partially lack knowledge about their animals or that the cat is given too little attention and therefore becomes under-stimulated and protests in some way.

When a kitten leaves it's mother is important

A kitten should never be separated from its mother before the age of twelve weeks. The most important socialisation period in a cat's life is between the second and seventh weeks of life. Kittens, raised alone, need extra understanding of how the cat works and how to respond to the cat's behaviour.

Cats are predators

The cat, despite its domestication several thousand years ago and all the care we give it in our homes, is deep down a predator. Those predatory instincts can lie just below the surface. It is common to think that if a cat has never been outside, it doesn't know about all the stimulation there, or the behaviour it could display, and can't feel bad about missing out. However, this isn't true. A lot of a cats behaviour is instinctive, for example digging, hunting and territorial thinking.

Aggression - actually a defensive behaviour

Perhaps you recognise that your otherwise cosy, huggable feline friend turns into a tiger on the run. Then one should not counter-attack, but instead try to understand the underlying causes, which can otherwise trigger even more behavioural problems. Many cat behaviour problems are a direct result of the cat's reaction to a stressful situation, much depending on how much the cat has learned during its earlier formative weeks of life.

All animals are normally equipped with a set of defence behaviours, which the species needs for its survival and the cat is no exception. It has an impressive arsenal of defences. In most cases, what we experience as aggression is precisely defensive behaviour. When a way out is closed, claws and teeth are put to use. This can many times be natural behaviour from the cat's side, as strange as it sounds.

Behaviour we experience as aggression

  • Deflected (side-directed) aggression
  • Horror aggression
  • Claw and bite aggression
  • Pain aggression
  • Cat peeing outside of their litter box

These behaviours may be due to

  • Veterinary causes
  • Fear
  • Hunting instinct
  • Pain
  • Dominance
  • Area thinking
  • Competitive instinct
  • Ownership and play


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